I don’t like social interviews. Most people are not very good at mixing risky business events, like an interview, with social events that involve meals. I would recommend that you avoid these interviews if possible, but you may not have a choice.
Interviewing is already an emotionally stressful experience. When you couple that stress with the pressure of displaying social graces, it’s easy to make a mistake.
If an interview over a meal, coffee, or social setting cannot be avoided, there are a few things you need to remember:
Watch your darn table manners. Slouching over your food, ordering the wrong kind of food, talking with food in your mouth, or eating sloppily will kill you in a lunch or dinner interview. I’ve had candidates with 15 to 20 years of excellent experience, MBAs from prestigious schools, and exemplary track records screw up interviews over a meal because their manners were so appalling. There’s no excuse for this.
Never, and I repeat never, drink alcohol in an interview. I don’t care if the hiring authority proceeds to get sloshed, you shouldn’t drink. In an interview, you have to be as mentally and emotionally sharp, congruent, and grounded as you possibly can be. You cannot afford to let anything impair your thought process.
Order your food after you see what your host is ordering. Don’t appear to be taking advantage of a free lunch by ordering one of the higher priced items on the menu. Let your host lead the way, then follow suit. Order a dish at the same or lesser price.
Stay away from messy foods, such as barbecue or spaghetti. Stick to simple foods and small bites. In an interview, you’re going to be doing most of the talking, especially if you’re being asked numerous questions. Stay away from things you have to pick up with your hands; even sandwiches can be a mess at some restaurants. Pieces of meat like a small steak or chicken breast are perfect foods to order because they can be easily cut.
Eat a little something before you go to a dinner interview. Appearing ravenous when you’re trying to carry on an interview is very distracting. Order small amounts and eat slowly.
Remember your manners. If you are invited to a social event like a party or attendance at a professional ball game, be nice and participate, but don’t call a lot of attention to yourself. If you are playing a game like golf or tennis, be a graceful loser or winner – just be graceful. Getting upset, or throwing your racket or golf club, may demonstrate intensity, but it will also lose the job offer for you.
You may have an occasion to be invited to a social gathering of the hiring organization. Remember that you are still being interviewed and you’re not yet a part of the organization. There is a real risk of being eliminated because someone, who probably has absolutely nothing to do with your hire, isn’t impressed with you and voices that opinion to the hiring authority.
If you have no choice but to attend events like this, remember to ask people about the most important topic they know – themselves! People love to talk about themselves, so ask them. Most people will walk away from you thinking that you are absolutely brilliant when you have spent most of the conversation listening to them. And they won’t be wrong because, after all, you are brilliant.